Is Delta going to stay red or will it revert to blue? Has Trudeaumania run its course? Will the new People’s Party of Canada become a vote-splitting difference?
Those are just some of the intriguing questions facing the riding of Delta as the next federal election is just seven months away.
The 2015 election was a game changer in a lot of ways as the newly reconfigured riding, which combined North Delta and South Delta for the first time in a quarter-century, saw newcomer Carla Qualtrough beat Conservative incumbent Kerry-Lynne Findlay by more than 9,000 votes, making her the first Liberal to represent South Delta in Ottawa since 1968.
Qualtrough was a newcomer to politics, having unsuccessfully run for Delta school board in the municipal election the year before. Her victory over Findlay, a minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet who had won the Delta-Richmond East riding four years earlier with over 54 per cent of the vote, ended a decades-long Conservative run in South Delta.
Qualtrough garnered 49.3 per cent of the popular vote, while Findlay saw her support drop to just 32.7 per cent. Delta had among the highest voter turnout in the country in 2015 at just over 75 per cent.
Qualtrough went on to be named to cabinet in the Justin Trudeau majority government, becoming minister of sport and persons with disabilities and later minister of public services and procurement.
Trudeau announced Qualtrough would seek a second term in this year’s election as she looks to prove that 2015 wasn’t an aberration.
Feeling optimistic, Phil Horan, chair of the Liberal riding association in Delta, said they’ve been knocking on doors and asking people specifically how they feel about Qualtrough, and the response has been overwhelmingly favourable.
“Carla is rightly perceived as being very aware of issues in Delta and representing Deltans’ views in Ottawa. Carla and her office are very busy helping constituents across Delta, which has resulted in tangible outcomes and investments in our community. As a local mother of four, whose children are very active, she spends a lot of time in the community and talks to people about their concerns constantly,” he said.
“Working with Carla over the past four years has been a wonderful experience. She has the trust of the EDA (electoral district association) and certainly has proven to be one of the strongest members of cabinet as she takes on more and more responsibility. We are confident that if she continues to work hard for Deltans that they will support her re-election in October,” said Horan.
Meanwhile, Conservative riding association president Sujay Nazareth said four people have been “kicking the tires” on a potential candidacy in this fall’s election. So far, only one, Angelina Ireland, has filed her application.
Nazareth said the party is hoping to find out soon when a nomination meeting will be held as the goal is to have a candidate in place by no later than mid-May.
As far as their chances, he said, “Defeating a sitting cabinet minister is not an easy task but that does not mean it cannot be done. After all, Carla did defeat a sitting cabinet minister in 2015. Carla has taken quite a hit in the past few months with her staunch defence of the prime minister as well as her own role of trying to change the rules to make it more lenient for companies found guilty to still be able to compete for government contracts. The right candidate will certainly have a good chance of winning back Delta.”
The NDP, Greens and People’s Party of Canada have all yet to nominate a candidate in Delta.
Noting it’s going to be a challenge for the Liberals to hold on to a lot of ridings that had switched over last time, UBC political science professor Allan Tupper told the Optimist that six months ago there was a pervasive feeling the Liberals would win another majority, albeit a reduced one, but several issues, including the SNC-Lavalin affair, make that prediction more precarious.
“The Conservatives have been given a little bit of momentum through the size of government deficits and they’ll play their balanced budget, fiscal economy ticket, and that now might become a bigger issue, although the overall economy is at least OK,” added Tupper.
Changes in the political scenes in several provinces could also become a factor, he said.
And even if South Delta swings back to its Conservative leanings, North Delta remains a big X factor.
North Delta had been part of Newton-North Delta until the 2015 election, a riding that had been held by the Conservatives (2004), Liberals (2006 and 2008) and New Democrats (2011). While the NDP won Newton-North Delta in 2011, the Conservatives topped the polls in North Delta.
Fast-forward to last summer and Trudeaumania was in full force as thousands were on hand to give the prime minister an enthusiastic welcome when he paid a visit to an East Delta farm. He was also harshly lambasted by locals on social media.
Tupper said Trudeau had a fairly long “honeymoon period” thanks to the resignations of the leaders of the two other major parties.
“There’s been a lot of changes and I think it’s going to be a more hotly contested election than people thought,” Tupper observed.
What might work in Trudeau’s favour is the Conservative fragmentation thanks to Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, something that could play out in Delta, he said.
“He has a lot of work to do, but people who don’t like the federal Conservatives, who don’t like the federal Liberals and certainly don’t like the NDP either, those Conservative-leaning people like what Bernier’s putting forward. It’s got to be a little tougher than the Conservative Party is right now in terms of its approach to issues,” said Tupper.
“The Liberals now see mainland British Columbia and places like Delta and Vancouver as an area of great promise for them. They did well last time and put a lot of effort into it. Each riding is different but it’s going to be very, very hotly contested,” he added.
It’s also possible the so-called ethnic vote could play a big factor as well if there’s a concerted effort focusing on winning the Indo-Canadian vote in North Delta, Tupper said.
“That could very well happen. The population of Delta South per se is not like the north. Just look at the controversy in the by-election in Burnaby South where that was made an issue. Those patterns we’ve seen in suburban Toronto as well.”
Findlay, meanwhile, is attempting a comeback, nominated as the Conservative candidate in South Surrey-White Rock.
This year’s federal election will be held Oct. 21.